Poli Sci and Gender

A discipline asks why progress in awarding Ph.D.'s to women has not led to progress in hiring them.
August 1, 2005

Does political science have a gender problem?

A new report from the American Political Science Association suggests that it does. The report notes an "alarming stall" in the progress of women up through the faculty ranks, despite advances toward gender equity when it comes to awarding Ph.D.'s in the field. And the report -- a compilation of numerous studies on a range of topics -- notes that in Britain, women in political science seem similarly stalled. And in the United States, some social science fields have shown much more progress.

Psychology and sociology outpace political science in terms of gender equity, while economics is further behind.

A comparison of political science and sociology in doctoral granting institutions illustrates the concerns in the report:

Share of Faculty Ranks Held by Women, 2001

Rank Percentage in Political Science Percentage in Sociology
Lecturer/instructor 67% 61%
Assistant professor 37% 52%
Associate professor 26% 42%
Full professor 18% 26%

The report says that these data are particular disturbing because the proportion of new Ph.D. recipients in political science has reached 42 percent, while the percentage of women who are assistant professors has been stagnant for five years and the only growth has come in the lecturer/instructor rank -- off the tenure track.

Women appear to be less happy in political science than are men at all levels of the discipline. In graduate school, men tend to drop out because they aren't happy about their employment prospects, but women leave because of unfriendly or unsupportive environments, the report says. Among tenured faculty members, 88 percent of men and 80 percent of women were happy with their jobs.

A number of the problems cited in the report are similar to problems faced by women in many disciplines. For example, the political scientists note -- as a group from the American Historical Association recently did in regard to that discipline -- that family responsibilities tend to fall more on women than on men.

But the report also suggests that political science may have a "one size fits all" approach to research -- and that such an approach may discourage women. Political science has been relatively slow, compared to other fields, to embrace feminist research, the report says.

Beyond subject matter, the report also raises an issue of style. "A culture and style of research in the discipline that is traditionally based more on lone-wolf scholarly production of single-authored pieces than on collaborative research" may hinder the advancement of women, the report says, urging that scholars consider ways to expand collaboration.

Progress for women in publishing in key journals has been uneven, the study adds. In the American Journal of Political Science Review, for example, the report notes that the percentage of articles with at least one female author increased from 29 percent to 52 percent between 1993 and 1998 -- and in the five years that followed dropped right back down to 29 percent.


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